Wouldn't It Just Be More Interesting for the Artist?

By | Friday, January 29, 2021 3 comments
When I was in my early teens, I'd hoped I could become a comic book artist. Not only was I interested in comics, but I was one of those kids who everyone always said was a "pretty good drawer." Which only meant that I was just a touch better than average. But before I even realized that I wasn't talented enough to develop a career in illustrating comic books in the first place, I decided that wasn't really a career path for me anyway.

My father was something of an artist himself. Not full-time, but he did the illustrations for a few books back in the day, not to mention illustrating many of the articles he wrote. So while I was growing up, he did provide some suggestions and guidance with my drawing.

a six-panel Steve Ditko Spider-Man page
I recall at one point talking with him about comic book art specifically. I don't know how exactly the conversation started, but I'm sure it must have been somewhat informal as I can recall the two of us just standing idly in the kitchen while we talked, and we rarely had real talks in the kitchen. I'm assuming we both happened to be getting something to drink or snack on at the same time. In any event, Dad noted that he never liked the idea of drawing comic books for a living because, he figured, if you were working on a monthly book, that effectively meant that you had to draw a complete page every day, and the vast majority of the panels would feature the same character(s). If you're working on Amazing Spider-Man, then, that's six drawings of Spider-Man every day, every month until they fire you. That's 150 finished drawings of Spider-Man every month, and how many different ways can you draw the same guy swinging from the same webline? (I know the math is a little off there, but that was his example at the time.)

The tedium of that sounded absolutely dreadful, and that's pretty much when I decided I wasn't going to be a comic book artist. (I half-wonder if his comments weren't chosen specifically to dissuade me from trying to become a comic artist. Either to spare my ego from my lack of skill, or to steer me away from freelancing as a career.)

Of course, a lot of artists do find ways to keep themselves interested and engaged in their art. But that's one of the things that surprises me about superhero comics: if you're doing a monthly book where the heroes are almost all white, and largely male, and virtually all have the same muscular body type, wouldn't you want to break up the monotony byt showcasing more minorities in the backgrounds? Just as an artist, isn't it more interesting and engaging for yourself to drawing different-looking characters? Isn't it more interesting if you weren't drawning the same basic body types over and over and over? Isn't it more interesting to draw Asian characters and Latino characters? Isn't it more interesting to draw fat people and skinny people? People with afros and people who are bald? People with dark skin and people with light skin? People with disabilities, and people who are extremely athletic?

It's not a noble motivation, but wouldn't some diversity just make the job of an artist less dull/repetitive? Even if the rationale isn't high-minded, the results for readers would be the same.
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Matt K said...

Yeah the occasional very long artist runs are rather astounding, when you think about it.

I believe it was Mark Gruenwald who suggested that writers generally stay on a title longer, because writers improve by the story, but artists improve by the page.

Interesting notion. I wonder how universally accurate that is, or just his own perceived experience? A a writer himself, I suspect he'd be biased against seeing his own improvement on a day-to-day basis, but he was also an editor, so he would have seen works other than his own as well.

Matt K said...

It seems considerably easier for me to think of extended writer runs, on one title, with multiple artists, than instances of artists who lasted through multiple writers. Even if so, there could be multiple factors operating. But I feel like Gruenwald was picking up on some sort of real phenomenon at least.